Today’s post comes from Renee, a fellow participant and amazing individual. Her insights are incredible and I can’t wait to add my own thoughts, once I finish the chapter. (I’m still using the newborn as my excuse.)
Wow, ladies, where do I start with the Bluebeard chapter?
I think, first, I’d like to make a comment or two on Estes’ choice of language. She entitles this chapter, “Stalking the Intruder: The Beginning Initiation”. The world “stalking” really stands out to me because I usually associate it with the Intruder, not myself in regards to the Intruder. I’m not a woman who stalks, who sneaks, who treads lightly and sniffs the wind before acting. No sir, not me. Such shady behavior is hardly lady-like… Right?
Already my natural predator is flicking its forked tongue into my ear, whispering half-truths and white lies about what is acceptable and how a little bit of soul lost here and there is hardly anything I’d notice. Such a ghastly force could hardly have a place in this world, I think, but Estes brings me up short there, too; she calls the predator “natural”, meaning “of nature” and I think about the universal law of opposites and what sort of initiation I would be missing out on if I didn’t have a predator to contend with.
In the case of Bluebeard, the natural predator is met face to face with a naïve youngest sister (also natural), who ignores the metaphorical “red flags” of Bluebeard’s blue beard, choosing to highlight his redeeming qualities whilst ignoring the more sinister or even just slightly unnerving aspects of his appearance or behavior – and chooses to wed him, even though her older sisters decline the invitation.
*sigh* How many times have I done this?
And thus we enter into a relationship with the predator. All is well enough in the beginning, but the predator works in small and insidious ways. Of our heroine, Estes observes, “Instead of living freely, she is living falsely.”
But what is the alternative? Bluebeard has given his wife his ring of keys with permission to explore the whole house save for the one key which fits a door as yet undiscovered. The older sisters, upon being invited to the castle, make a game out of matching the myriad keys to their respective doors until finally, they reach the cellar and see the forbidden key’s door closing just as they reach it.
This is where we hear our “wiser neighbors” at church giving us advice like, “Never pray for patience or humility. Because then you’ll get this huge trial that will make you patient and humble. Trust us; just don’t do it.” Or, as our beloved author puts it, “You’ll get more than you bargained for.”
Preach it, sister.
Fortunately for us, and rather unfortunately for our “learned” advisors, our souls are gifted with curiosity as part of their eternal and natural makeup. Our curiosity leads to intuition, wild knowing, and a life of harmony. It’s the older sisters’ (and even the youngest sister’s) curiosity that drives them to discover what lay behind the doors in the Bluebeard’s castle. Curiosity is the cause that ultimately leads us to wield the forbidden key and discover what’s behind the secret door. And what do we find?
The bloody carnage of wives gone before, also seen as stifled dreams, abandoned hopes, and the bones of previously-attempted initiations. It’s a sick mess and it’s got the sisters screaming. Most notably, however, it’s got the smallest key bleeding – and the blood won’t stop.
God, this sounds familiar. How many times in my life have I wished I didn’t know something? How many times have I told myself, “Curiosity killed the cat,” only to open yet another dark part of my psyche? And the bleeding never stopped until I had faced the music, as it were, and looked my predator straight in the eyes. But not, of course, before I tried to hide from it first. And so our young wife does the same.
Trying horsehair, spidersilk, and all sorts of other strategies for cleaning her bleeding key, it bleeds red all over her dress. She decides to hide it in her closet before her husband returns, and upon Bluebeard’s arrival home, says she lost it when he inquires after his key’s absence. Bluebeard throws open her closet to reveal his wife’s entire wardrobe covered in blood.
Estes points out that the wardrobe is important, for it represents a persona, a carefully crafted facade that we show others. Some of the most damaged people I know, the truly vilest of villains, have a near-perfect facade – at least at first glance. As a recent beginner initiate into the world of romantic relationships, my most recent boyfriend was very nearly like Bluebeard, and boy did I have to fight for my life to escape that situation. (But I digress.)
Per the wardrobe, after a while, no matter how determinedly we smile, how loudly we laugh, there is blood on our clothing, and something is terribly wrong; something we can no longer hide from, something we can no longer pretend doesn’t exist. Estes describes the bleeding soul, as the cellar door has opened a doorway to something that is causing the wild self to slowly lose life.
Still, as Ms. Marissa points out, there are bones in the cellar, and as discussed in the previous chapter, bones are only the building blocks of new life. The dreams that we cast aside, the hopes we let our predator dash, these can be brought back to life; no matter how completely the destructive energy of our own personal Bluebeards, there’s still something about our wildish nature that they they can’t quite extinguish absolutely.
In the story, Bluebeard rages when he discovers his wife’s wardrobe covered in blood and drags her down into the cellar with the intent to cast her into the bloody piles of bones waiting there. But the initiation of the youngest sister has already begun, and she is learning how to be shrewd, wily, and cunning. She pleads with her husband for a quarter hour in which to prepare for her death. I love this quote about what’s happening:
“This is the time that almost superhuman effort manages to drive the so-tired psyche to its final work. His maniacal message is, ‘For consciousness – you die.’ Her response is to trick him into thinking she is his willing victim while she plans his demise.”
Okay, I was raised a good Mormon girl, and more than that, a good soldier’s daughter and wife. Straightforward is the name of the game. But there’s a deep part of me that secretly fist pumps when I read about how this girl is planning to defeat her attacker. It’s stealth and trickery that wins her her life, and I find that to be unequivocally awesome.
After the wife is given a few minutes to “prepare for her death”, she hastens to her room and calls out to her sisters for her brothers. Here, Estes explains that when the psyche is in the thick of things, it’s masculine energy, what Estes calls our animus, that will save us. The animus is the muscle, the go-getter, the translator of dreams to reality. The brothers in this story represent strength and action. The animus is our own personal knight in shining armor. This part of the psyche loves and protects us, but waits until we signal distress before acting.
I shudder to think of how many times I’ve tried to compensate for a weakened animus by seeking a “knight in shining armor” in a relationship or an ideal. What I have learned (and feel good about after reading this chapter) is that we have the ability to save ourselves already, without anyone else’s help. It’s true that other people may spark within us another initiation, but placing another person in the position of our animus is not only fruitless, it’s insane – it will never work.
In the end, as Bluebeard stomps up the stairs to the wife’s room, her brothers charge in as she is leaving, and cut Bluebeard into pieces and leave him for the carrion birds. Our heroine escapes unscathed (and a whole lot wiser) and Bluebeard is left to be picked at, digested, and distributed into new energy. Undoubtedly we will face him again, but at least we will recognize him much sooner this time, and much more easily turn him over to the sin-eaters, the carrion birds that transform our predator into a subdued character whose attributes can aid us.
Case in point: I had a therapist tell me once that I had trouble letting go. I decided to rectify the problem by eradicating the part of me that held onto things. This was the solution, right? Just stop hanging onto things? The only problem was, I couldn’t do it, and was finding the task not only increasingly more impossible, but my self-esteem was starting to sink to record lows in response to my endeavor. It was then that I had a flash of intuition: what if I didn’t have to get rid of this part of myself? What if all it needed was to be redirected? And what if, (*gasp*) it could actually serve me?
It was then that I made myself a promise. In exchange for keeping the part of my that hangs on with fierce tenacity, I would hang onto something I never considered before. I told myself that I would never, ever, ever let go of the idea that I could always let go. That way, not only did I begin to subdue a part of me that was destroying pieces of my life, but I actually managed to redirect the energy in a way that propelled me forward in life. Our chapter reads: “When the predator’s psychic energum is rendered, it is formable to other purpose. We become creators then, the raw substance reduced down becomes then the stuff of our own creation.”
As I mentioned before, I had a boyfriend that mirrored my natural predator. I have not been much of a person to shy away from the predator in myself, but to see it in another person and face its reality was another thing entirely. As a staunch idealist, I have always looked for the good above all, giving second (and third, and fourth, and so on) chances to others in hopes to prove myself to be an egalitarian person, as well as someone who could be relied upon to be compassionate, a champion for the underdog, etc. etc. etc. And, at its core, this idealism is how I express love.
It wasn’t until I unlocked the door of my cellar and unearthed the ugly truth that I was in an abusive relationship that I realized how I had lost as much control to my boyfriend’s natural predator as I had to my own. Extricating myself from that situation was one of the hardest things I have ever done, if not the hardest. I am still learning how to let the sin-eaters render this particular Bluebeard, and the process will be ongoing, I think. I had thought this breakup would kill me, but, when truth emerged and the livelihood of my psyche was on the line, it was as Ms. Marissa says:
“When the soulful life is being threatened, it is not only acceptable to draw the line and mean it, it is required.”
Here’s a wolf’s howl to all of my friends here in book club, and a fond wish for shared wisdom.
(Note: I have no experience at all with the dark figure in my dreams, so I left him out of my post. Please share if you have experience with this, as I have none.)